“War Ink” Uses Tattoos to Break Down Barrier Between Veterans and Civilians

Band member
For veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, surviving the war was only half the battle. For many veterans, returning home to the U.S. after experiencing the horrors of war comes with its own share of challenges.

From dealing with haunting memories to trying to re-assimilate to life in the U.S., war veterans face a number of obstacles that most of the civilian population can’t relate to. A new collaborative project launched by the San Francisco Bay Area’s Costa County Library attempts to bridge the gap between veterans and civilians through a series of videos, photos and interviews.

In a new online exhibit entitled “War Ink,” 24 veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were given the opportunity to share their stories and experiences with the civilian community through their war tattoos. Often times, war veterans feel isolated upon returning home, and the creator of the project, U.S. Army veteran and military sociologist James Deitch, wanted to give them an outlet to express the thoughts and feelings the war left them with.

“These tattoos are an expression from a community that doesn’t openly discuss or express emotion,” Deitch told PBS. “We understood these tattoos to be uniquely valuable, as veterans largely return home to a community that doesn’t know their story and how war changed them.”

By photographing veterans’ tattoos, Deitch hoped to break down the barrier between the military and civilian world and to create an open dialogue between the two. Tattoos often tell a story, and for military personnel, tattoos document their experiences from war and often hold deep personal meaning.

“I think it’s great that people choose to commemorate important points in their lives which can often be sad or difficult to convey to others. It can often be very difficult for a soldier to express their feelings about what they experienced, and I can see why they would want their tattoos be photographed rather than retelling a tale.  This is a nice way to honor veterans,” says Christina Seeber, Marketing Manager at the Academy of Responsible Tattooing.

The exhibit includes four chapters: “We Were You,” “Changed Forever,” “Living Scars” and “Living not Surviving.” The chapters consist of audio clips, video interviews and photographs of 24 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as they share the meaning behind their war tattoos, giving civilians a glimpse into the life of war veteran.

“War Ink” opened online on Veterans Day and can be viewed at

Durham Opens An Apartment Building For Homeless Veterans

Street of residential houses
One of the many challenges facing veterans in modern American society is finding safe and affordable housing. Because of this difficulty, combined with prevalent rates of mental, emotional and physical trauma, many returning servicemen and women have found themselves living on the streets or bouncing from shelter to shelter. Fortunately, a number of organizations in Durham, North Carolina have taken steps to lessen this problem by building an apartment building specifically for veterans in the area.Called the Denson Apartments for Veterans, the building is named after Alex Denson, a retired federal judge and the first board chairman of CASA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing affordable housing that helped organize the project. In total, CASA has 65 units designated for veteran accomodation in the Triangle Region, which stretches from Raleigh to Durham and Chapel Hill. The Denson Apartments make up 11 of those units and are already being filled by homeless veterans.

The construction of the apartment building was supported by the City of Durham, the Federal Department of Housing, and a number of other local agencies. Several other companies and community groups have taken responsibility for the building’s continued landscaping and management. However, without an assigned manager to attend to the various needs of the building, ranging from maintenance to the building’s tax status as a nonprofit venture, the project could quickly go awry.

“In a complex like this with a pretty diverse community of individuals with specific needs, a property management company with experience in dealing with lower income individuals is a necessity. It’s advantageous to make a community like this run successfully, and a property management firm is certainly helpful,” says Joe Ord, President of Amoso Properties.

Another apartment building with 12 units for veteran use is currently planned for the lot beside the Denson Apartments. Construction is expected to begin soon.